In its earliest stages, the stretch of King Street West between Spadina and University they're calling "Festival Street" (which is a silly, if highly functional/descriptive name) feels like a public relations ghost town.
As of the festival's first day, it was mostly just five-foot posters advertising various films playing at TIFF 2015 (and posters advertising TIFF 2015 itself), and guys riding around willy-nilly on cruiser bikes bumming cigarettes.
Where are all the promised attractions, like the Airbnb Festival Insider booth and the magicians and Pop n' Lock Dance Machine? As far as I could see there was not much in the way of popping. And very little as far as locking is concerned. Mostly, it's just local bars trying to get into the spirit of movie madness by scrawling movie quotes in chalk on their promotional sandwich boards.
But the rapidly thumping heart of TIFF has always been the movies. And while some initial disappointments in the lineup left a lot of critics let down – like the cancellation of Sidney Pollack's Aretha Franklin doc, or the curious absence of Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's doc about filmmaker (and annual TIFF fixture) Brian De Palma – there was early buzz in the dedicated press bunker, around the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines and Poptopia kiosks of the Scotiabank Theatre.
I began my first proper day of TIFF 2015 with a heads-up that the screening of Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Cemetery of Splendour may be cancelled. There were rumours that the DCP (Digital Cinema Package, the things they store movies on now that celluloid is all but extinct) was misfiring, and that I wouldn't get to launch into TIFF with a plaintive, meditative story about a middle-aged nurse and a medium shuffling around an army hospital for soldiers who can't stop sleeping.
Luckily, the rumour turned out to be false, and the movie went off without a hitch. Still! Rumours are fun!
Thursday night also saw the kickoff for Midnight Madness, TIFF's fan-favourite genre movie programme. It launched in top form with Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room, a terrifying action-thriller about a group of scraggly punk kids being held hostage by a band of rural neo-Nazis (led, naturally, by Sir Patrick Stewart).
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, it's the best Midnight Madness I've seen since I was blasted awake by Ben Wheatley's Kill List in 2011. At once funny and unbearably tense, gritty and gorgeously shot, it marks Saulnier as a major talent. It's sure to be one of the most talked-about movies of the festival. And frankly, not making an effort to see it feels, well, dumb.
Tonight: it's the gala premiere of Matt Damon's stranded spaceman movie, The Martian. Will our hero make it safely home from the Red Planet? Only time will tell. (But also, yes, he almost definitely will. This is how movies tend to work.)